New schools are multimillion-dollar investments, and administrators have myriad decisions to make about what goes into these buildings before the doors open to students. One issue that always must be addressed is once students enter the facility, what do they do with the stuff they brought with them?
The answer most often is lockers. These storage spaces are so prevalent in schools that it is tempting to consider them an afterthought in planning a school. But the type and size of lockers, and where they are placed, can have a significant effect on the school environment.
"You'd be surprised," says Bill Kelley, associate superintendent of schools in Hardin County, Ky. "Lockers engender a good bit of discussion."
THE LONG AND SHORT
In a few cases, administrators longing to rid their facilities of the noise that lockers create and the security problems they pose have opted to do away with them altogether.
But most schools still find lockers the most practical way to provide students with a repository for their books, coats, supplies and other personal belongings while they attend classes.
For the new high school that Hardin County is building, the district chose half-size lockers stacked in twos. That way, each student could have his or her own locker.
"Students prefer their own space rather than sharing lockers," says Kelley. "This way, students don't have to worry as much about things getting taken."
The Spring-Ford Area (Pa.) School District decided students in its new high school would be better served with full-size lockers.
"The stacked lockers wouldn't work for our shorter students," says Bruce Cooper, the district's director of planning, operations and facilities.
Whatever the size, schools should seek out products that are durable enough to withstand the workout inflicted by students.
"They're going to get opened and closed a half-dozen times a day, and students tend to slam the doors pretty hard," says Kelley. "They will get banged up over time. But most lockers, if you buy a good-quality locker and they are taken care of, should last several years."
Both Kelley and Cooper say their districts chose wider lockers - 15 or 18 inches instead of 12 - for high school.
"Once you get a heavy coat and a gym bag with some books, it gets pretty packed in there," says Kelley.
Some schools place all their lockers in the same room, but in Spring-Ford and Hardin County, officials decided that spreading the lockers throughout their schools' hallways would create a better environment.
"We didn't want the lockers all congested in one area," says Cooper. "That would create too much opportunity for pushing, shoving and fights."
The downside of hallway lockers is that they shrink the paths available to students trying to get to class between periods and can create congestion and a more tense school atmosphere. Spring-Ford lessened the congestion at its new high school by using only one side of its hallway for lockers.
Hardin made sure students are assigned to lockers in the same area as others in their grade level - that way, freshmen don't have to get past a blockade of seniors to get to their lockers.
SIDEBAR: Lockerless Schools: A sound decision
In Granger, Texas, the school that houses grades 6 through 12 didn't have a lot of security trouble. Still, when Principal James Bartosh attended a presentation a few years back about removing lockers from schools, he liked what he heard. Or, more precisely, he liked what he wasn't going to hear - the constant clanking and rattling of slamming lockers that echo through the corridors.
Granger School needed to do something about its deteriorating lockers, so Bartosh persuaded his district in 1998 to do away with academic lockers altogether. Now, as superintendent of the Granger Independent School District, Bartosh is a firm believer in the benefits of a lockerless school.
"Most schools that do this are looking to improve security," says Bartosh. "We've found that there are a lot of other benefits."
Doing away with lockers has meant removing a place for students to stash weapons or drugs, eliminating the noise that comes from a horde of students opening and closing locker doors, and reducing the congestion that results when students and open lockers create bottlenecks in hallways.
Bartosh also says that without lockers, hallways are cleaner, thefts are reduced, and fewer textbooks are lost. Students are more punctual because they go directly to classes without detouring to their lockers. Without a locker to store items, students are forced to develop better organizational skills.
The switch to a lockerless school is not cost-free. Granger provides students with two copies of their textbooks - one to keep in their classrooms and one to keep at home. That way, students need only carry notebooks or paper during the school day and don't have to retrieve items from a locker. In some cases, students are given a CD-ROM version of a textbook for home use.
Granger is not totally without lockers - the gymnasium has them for physical education and athletic events, and students in the band or taking vocational courses may need lockers for their instruments and equipment.
But Bartosh can't foresee a time when the school will again have lockers in the academic parts of the school.
"We've never looked back," says Bartosh. "Our school is quieter, cleaner, safer. It has improved the whole school environment."